In 2022, the uncertainty in the bullpen behind Edwin Díaz and Adam Ottavino came back to bite the Mets and was something they were forced to contend with at the trading deadline and down the stretch. Hoping to avoid a similar situation in 2023, the Mets brought back both Díaz and Ottavino, signed veteran reliever David Robertson, and traded for lefty Brooks Raley. Along with Drew Smith—the only major member of the 2022 bullpen who was still under team control at the end of last season—these returning characters and new faces make up the “locks” for the 2023 bullpen.
Beyond that, there are a few spots in the bullpen up for grabs. One of those spots is likely to be set aside for a long reliever or swingman to fill the role Trevor Williams occupied last year; the likes of Elieser Hernández and Joey Lucchesi will probably compete for this slot. This leaves two middle relief jobs in the bullpen to be won in spring and a pretty long list of pitchers competing for those two slots: John Curtiss, Tommy Hunter, Zach Greene, Jeff Brigham, Stephen Ridings, Bryce Montes de Oca, Sam Coonrod, Jimmy Yacabonis, and of course, Stephen Nogosek.
Nogosek is the only one of these pitchers on the bubble who doesn’t have minor league options besides Hunter and Yacabonis, who are with the Mets on minor league deals. This gives him an advantage over others on the list, who can be optioned back and forth between Triple-A and the majors. (Though Greene is a Rule 5 pick the Mets would risk losing if he does not make the club.) Notably, the Mets have not pursued some free agent relievers remaining on the market, such as Zack Britton, because of their desire to prioritize flexibility in the bullpen via optionable relievers.
It’s not just the lack of options that make Nogosek an attractive option for the Opening Day bullpen, though. In the parade of relievers the Mets acquired at the trading deadline in 2017, only Drew Smith and Stephen Nogosek remain. And each of them had arguably their most successful big league seasons yet in 2022. For Nogosek’s part, there is some evidence that this success at the big league level is sustainable. The absence of a minor league season in 2020 gave Nogosek an opportunity to overhaul his repertoire, which had gotten him through the minor leagues but had not yet translated to big league success. Namely, he refined his changeup and added a cutter. He struck out an eye-popping 55 batters in 39 innings in the minor leagues in 2021, but injury limited his opportunity to showcase his new arsenal in the majors that year. In 2022, he used his new cutter a whopping 30% of the time and it yielded results. Nogosek was effective both at Triple-A and in 22 big league innings last season, posting a 2.45 ERA with the Mets and a 2.30 ERA with 53 strikeouts in 43 innings at Syracuse.
Nogosek has also demonstrated the ability to go multiple innings in his outings; nine of his twelve big league appearances last season were more than one inning—a useful asset to any bullpen. Both MLB.com and FanGraphs currently project that Nogosek will be a part of the Mets’ Opening Day bullpen. If these changes to Nogosek’s pitch mix continue to deliver the results he got in 2022, that is a massive step forward in his career and a huge boon to the Mets.